Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vs. Machine Learning (ML): What’s best for your P2P?

In a recent EBG webinar, How to Leverage AI, Machine Learning and RPA in P2P & the Finance Function Today: Value Drivers & Limitations, Dr. Bernhard Schaffrik, Principal Analyst with Forrester Consulting, and Magnus Bergfors, Global Business Director with Basware, discuss the role and benefits of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotic process automation (RPA) in your P2P and Finance functions to help guide your decision-making throughout the automation journey.

What are companies saying about AI and ML?

Forrester opened the webinar by exploring the results of a survey completed by about 3,000 business decision makers involved in big data and analytics from across the globe and across many company sizes and industries. They were asked, “What are your organisation’s plans to use artificial intelligence – specifically machine learning and deep learning?” They found that more than 20% have already implemented AI and are even expanding their implementations and another 20% are in the early stages of implementation, meaning that almost 50% are already using AI and ML.

The same audience was asked “What could be or are the benefits for your organisation to use AI and ML technologies?” The top four answers, listed below, confirm that companies are slowly turning their focus away from only looking at cost efficiency and decreasing bottom-line to looking more towards an outcome-driven discussion where revenue growth is now a top priority that can be enabled by ML and AI.

  1. Increase the automation of internal processes
  2. Improve overall operational efficiency
  3. Improve customer experience
  4. Increase revenue growth
  5. What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

Robotic process automation (RPA) combines some of the leading aspects of software development today: robots and automation. RPA is a tool that can record users performing repetitive tasks and can generate a script so that a software robot can automatically perform some of those tasks. While RPA is recognised as one of the most useful technologies for procure-to-pay (P2P), it’s only one piece of the innovation puzzle in an advancing technology landscape. Often referred to as a virtual workforce, RPA can integrate with software and replicate desktop actions, performing simple tasks like maintaining a vendor database, acknowledging receipt of goods, resolving price discrepancies, establishing a date for payment, updating the general ledger, or issuing checks.

However, RPA isn’t the only technology organisations use to drive efficiencies in their procure-to-pay (P2P) operations, AI and ML also provide ample support to procurement and finance departments to add strategic value and drive future growth.

What do RPA tools lack?

Since RPA is less of a business process and more of a labor replacement for arduous manual tasks, as companies upgrade their legacy systems, existing RPA tools created to make older systems more efficient quickly become outdated and fall flat beyond the initial cost savings associated with reducing manual tasks.

For example, RPA works well for high-volume tasks that are repetitive in nature and can be automated using very specific business rules, but what happens when the parameters change? The robots must relearn what to do, so while RPA works great for some tasks within the P2P process (especially for the SMB market), it doesn’t scale. Global enterprises with complex processes and often a result of multiple mergers and acquisitions, need more to address their needs.

Intelligent Automation - More than just RPA

For tasks associated with complex processes, it’s important to consider intelligent automation. At Basware, we are continuously looking for ways to increase touchless processing through smart processing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. To define the differences, let’s look at a few specific examples.

  • Invoice and PO matching – At Basware, we match more PO and invoice scenarios than any of our competitors through the logic built into our solutions, minimising the number of exceptions AP staff have to deal with. If you rely purely on RPA and it’s a simple transaction with maybe one or two items or if everything on the invoice matched the PO exactly, then it would all work seamlessly by just relying on RPA.

    But when you get into the more complex scenarios with multiple items, or there is line-item details on the PO but none on the invoice, RPA can’t solve the need for human intervention to resolve the discrepancy. However, Basware can handle all those complex scenarios with ease. We do the same with coding – our SmartCoding uses AI and ML to leverage historical transactions to suggest coding even for non-PO invoices.

  • SmartPDF – While most of our competitors use OCR to extract data, we first determine whether a PDF invoice is machine readable, a native PDF, or if it’s an image PDF. If it’s a machine-readable PDF, there is no need to go through the process of making it into an image and then use OCR. You’ll just lose data accuracy. But by introducing an AI component to our SmartPDF offering, the AI automatically maps the fields between the format in which the supplier sent the invoice and the format in which the buyer can receive it – completely taking out the human effort needed.

  • Predictive Analytics – We also leverage AI and machine learning on the analytics side of the solution. Predictive and prescriptive analytics help the modern finance organisation by enabling users to use data from across their P2P cycle so they can analyse the probable outcomes of processes, make better decisions, and drive KPIs.

While these are just a few examples, Basware solutions are based on minimising manual effort, driving touchless processing to minimise exceptions, and making AP professionals limited resources more strategic. All thanks to the combinative effort of ML, AI, and advanced automation.

Revenue growth and other benefits powered by AI & ML

With predictive intelligence, the journey towards delivering AI-powered insights that give our customers a distinct advantage is happening right now. With this approach, AI and ML are no longer buzzwords, but deliver measurable impact on P2P operations. With this elevated level of insight, customers reduce the cost of operations, spend smarter, and build strong business relationships with suppliers – securing long-term savings and growth.

Senior Manager, Global Technical Presales